There's a chance we'll see some teams in the 2020 NCAA tournament who haven't been part of the 68-team field for 10 or more years. If so, take a good look at their seed before you pick them to advance and you'll have a leg up on everyone else in your NCAA bracket game.
I went through all 353 DI men's basketball programs, starting in the 1978-79 season, when seeds were officially added to every team in the NCAA tournament. I identified teams that made the tournament after missing the tournament at least 10 seasons in a row, taking note of their seed and total number of wins in the tournament. I did not count wins in the First Four or opening-round games in previous formats of the NCAA tournament when two No. 12 seeds would play each other. I only counted seasons at the DI level.
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Here are some of the highlights of what I found:
- No. 11 seeds have averaged more wins in the NCAA tournament after a decade-long drought than No. 6 seeds. The 19 teams examined that earned a No. 11 seed averaged 0.63 wins in the tournament per team — almost 0.2 more wins per team than the No. 6 seeds examined.
- Be wary of picking a No. 5 or No. 6 seed that just ended a tournament drought of at least a decade. While the sample sizes are relatively small, they're not insignificant. The 12 No. 5 seeds examined averaged just 0.42 wins in the tournament, while the nine No. 6 seeds in the tournament averaged just 0.44 wins. Keep in mind, this is total wins in the tournament, not just average wins in the first round
- It's really, really rare for a team to earn a top-two seed after a decade-plus-long drought. There were just three instances of a school earning a No. 1 seed (Indiana State in 1979, UConn in 1990 and Auburn in 1999) and one team that earned a No. 2 seed after an absence of at least 10 years (Georgia Tech in 1985). These four schools seemed to be unaffected by a long tournament drought, with the four schools averaging three wins in the tournament.
- However, No. 3 seeds haven't had a similar level of success. The five No. 3 seeds examined that each missed the tournament for at least the previous 10 seasons averaged just 0.8 wins per team. LSU in 1979 and Washington State in 2007 won one game, while Tulsa in 1982 and Stanford in 1989 lost in the first round.
Here's a closer look at the data I compiled.
|Seed||Avg. Wins in tournament||Number of teams|
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Lack of success for No. 5 and No. 6 seeds
You might be surprised that No. 11 seeds (0.63 tournament wins/team) have had more success than No. 6 seeds (0.44 tournament wins/team) after an NCAA tournament drought of at least a decade, and that No. 12 seeds (0.31 tournament wins/team) aren't too far behind No. 5 seeds (0.42 tournament wins/team).
The complete breakdown is below. What you'll notice is that seemingly once per season, if not multiple times, there's a team in a 5/12 or 6/11 first-round matchup that hasn't made the tournament in over a decade.
There are years like 1998, when three of the four No. 11 seeds ended a tournament drought of at least 10 years. In 1983 and 1984, three No. 12 seeds made the tournament for the first time in more than a decade.
Loyola Chicago, a No. 11 seed in 2018, is the only team listed below to win at least four games in the tournament after ending such a drought.
No. 5 seeds
- 1979 Oklahoma: 1 win
- 1979 Toledo: 1 win
- 1980 Washington State: 0 wins
- 1981 Wyoming: 1 win
- 1982 West Virginia: 1 win
- 1983 Oklahoma State: 0 wins
- 1984 Auburn: 0 wins
- 1991 Mississippi State: 0 wins
- 1998 TCU: 0 wins
- 2007 Virginia Tech: 1 win
- 2008 Drake: 0 wins
- 2009 Florida State: 0 wins
No. 6 seeds
- 1980 Clemson: 3 wins
- 1981 Fresno State: 0 wins
- 1983 Illinois State: 0 wins
- 1990 New Mexico State: 0 wins
- 1995 Oregon: 0 wins
- 2001 Notre Dame: 1 win
- 2014 UMass: 0 wins
- 2015 SMU: 0 wins
- 2018 TCU: 0 wins
No. 11 seeds
- 1980 Bradley: 0 wins
- 1981 Northeastern: 1 win
- 1983 Morehead State: 0 wins
- 1984 Nevada: 0 wins
- 1993 Long Beach State: 0 wins
- 1993 Manhattan: 0 wins
- 1998 Miami (FL): 0 wins
- 1998 Washington: 2 wins
- 1998 Western Michigan: 1 win
- 1999 Kent State: 0 wins
- 2002 Wyoming: 1 win
- 2003 Central Michigan: 1 win
- 2004 Air Force: 0 wins
- 2008 Baylor: 0 wins
- 2008 Kansas State: 1 win
- 2013 Middle Tennessee: 0 wins
- 2014 Nebraska: 0 wins
- 2017 Rhode Island: 1 win
- 2018 Loyola Chicago: 4 wins
No. 12 seeds
- 1980 Loyola Marymount: 0 wins
- 1980 San Jose State: 0 wins
- 1981 LIU: 0 wins
- 1982 Northern Illinois: 0 wins
- 1983 Boston University: 0 wins
- 1983 Georgia Southern: 0 wins
- 1983 Xavier: 0 wins
- 1984 Houston Baptist: 0 wins
- 1984 Richmond: 1 win
- 1984 Rider: 0 wins
- 1989 South Carolina: 0 wins
- 1991 Saint Peter's: 0 wins
- 1993 George Washington: 2 wins
- 1996 VCU: 0 wins
- 1998 Iona: 0 wins
- 2000 Indiana State: 0 wins
- 2000 St. Bonaventure: 0 wins
- 2003 Milwaukee: 0 wins
- 2006 Texas A&M: 1 win
- 2007 Long Beach State: 0 wins
- 2012 Harvard: 0 wins
- 2012 South Florida: 2 wins
- 2013 Ole Miss: 1 win
- 2015 Buffalo: 0 wins
- 2015 Wyoming: 0 wins
- 2016 Yale: 1 win
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The surprising average win total for No. 7 seeds
Using the data outlined above, the seed lines with the highest average tournament win totals after ending a 10-plus-year drought are as follows: No. 1 and No. 2 seeds (three wins each), No. 4 seeds (two wins), then...No. 7 seeds?
Yep, No. 7 seeds have averaged 1.22 tournament wins after ending a long tournament drought, according to a sample size of nine teams. Admittedly, South Carolina's Final Four run in 2017 skews that data some, but six of the nine teams won at least one game in the tournament so it's not as if the Gamecocks' surprising run three years ago completely alters the data.
Vanderbilt in 1988 and Wichita State in 2006 both won two games in the tournament after ending long droughts.
The data on No. 8/9 seeds isn't what you'd expect
You'll likely spend as much time trying to pick the winners of the 8/9 games on your bracket as you will any other seed-line matchup. You might flip a coin. You might pick two No. 8 seeds and two No. 9 seeds.
Sometimes three No. 8 seeds will win in a year; sometimes three No. 9 seeds win.
So you might expect that the two seed lines have similar success when teams end a 10-plus-year tournament drought.
That's not true, however.
The six No. 8 seed examined average less than a third of the wins of 10 No. 9 seeds analyzed — 0.17 tournament wins compared to 0.60 tournament wins.
Guess what, there's not a single No. 9 seed examined that made it past the second round so it's not as if that average win total is boosted by a No. 9 seed making a Cinderella run to the Final Four. Six of the 10 No. 9 seeds examined won their first-round game.